Is hackle-raising a problem?


Well-Known Member
Hi all! Quick (or not so quick?) question!

I've been noticing lately that Cassidy raises her hackles to an increasing amount of things we meet on our walks. We walk in mostly quiet environments: the long, winding driveways of my apartment complex, the sidewalk to the park (no loud traffic there, although sometimes we do walk the sidewalk by the main roads with whizzing traffic), and the park itself which is typically deserted.

Although she will raise her hackles occasionally at a wind-swept bag or sudden noise, I mostly notice it towards people and other dogs. We saw 3 kids playing on a tree the other day about 20 feet away, and hackles immediately went up. Head sort of low and extended, like she was checking them out, sniffing the air cautiously. Of course, if she is taken to actually meet the kids, she's energetically sweet - not afraid in the least, or agressive. But the hackles didn't go down till we had passed the kids and they were behind us. (She hasn't met a lot of children - we don't have any, and the toddlers below us in our building are terrified of dogs - so maybe that plays into it?) However, she does the same thing with people getting into their cars nearby, squirrels making a ruckus in the woods, etc.

I tried to pay attention to whether it is just directed at people, but it's not. Just people she doesn't know, dogs (whether she knows them or not), and noises? The maintenance guys love her, and if she sees them she's ecstatic - no hackles at all.

Another example: her doggy-friend Rufus (a small wire-haired terrier - maybe a third her size) ALWAYS gets greeted with hackles raised! Cassidy then tries to stand over him, mouth him, etc. but he seems to enjoy the play (no one gets aggressive - just excited tails wagging and tongues lolling).

Last example (sorry I know this is super long, but I want to give a clear picture): she'll raise her hackles when chasing our cat as well (always under supervision). The cat tolerates her, but will give her a good BOP! on the nose if he feels she's invading his personal bubble. If he gets REALLY annoyed, he'll run away, and she chases as fast as she can. When he finds higher ground, they have a standoff, cat hissing and bopping, pup barking up a storm and panting happily/tail wagging, but hackles up.

Are the raised hackles indicative of a problem I should be aware of/ intervening somehow? Is it fear? Dominance? Predation? Or is it normal for dogs to initially do that before realizing "this thing is okay, I'll act appropriately now"?

She's now about 7 1/2 months old, if that makes a difference. I just want to be sure I'm cultivating the right responses from her as she's growing!

Thanks, I know this was long! :dogtongue2:


Experienced Member
In general I see hackles raised as an indication of arousal. It could mean that the dog is on alert and deciding how to react, aggressively or not, or it could also mean that the dog is really excited. I work at a doggy daycare and see a ton of raised hackles. Generally it's when the dogs first come in and everyone rushes to greet them. In that situation I monitor very closely and try to prevent the other dogs from completely mobbing the new dog. But overall the new dog is on edge but not aggressive. I also see hackles during playtime when the dogs are really excited. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I do generally have to step in to calm things down.

Now as for Cassidy I would be a little bit concerned since it sounds like her raised hackles are more of an indication of fear than excitedness (except possibly with Rufus and the cat). Especially with her being 7.5 months she is a teenager and really trying to figure out the world. Generally dogs who were fine with things as little puppies start to be more assertive at this age. It's also possible that she could be going through a fear period.

While it is normal for dogs to raise their hackles when they are unsure of something, since she is doing it to a lot of things it would make me concerned that she is not completely confident of the world and I wouldn't want it to develop into actual aggression. I think I would work on a counterconditioning program, teaching her that new things=great treats. So when you think she is unsure of something you could bring out the chicken, and take away the chicken when the object,person,dog has passed. Or is she does want to check them out and is able to, you could let her approach slowly on her own terms (no people rushing over and shoving their hand in her face). Since I"m assuming you socialized her a ton as a puppy, this could just be a fear period and she will hopefully be back to her confident self in a couple weeks.


Experienced Member
I agree with Fickla. Hackles raised in a dog can be a lot of things but in a puppy of this age and with all the different situations u describe it sounds like fear or anxiety. If she's that worried about that many things then a good desensitization or counterconditioning program is def in order. My golden was fearful at that age and i did train her out of it. I think if I had not that she would be more fear aggressive than she is.

Now she'll still occassionally bark at kids walking by on the street, which i don't like, but is not raising hackles or getting aggressive or redirecting at out other dog. She'll still get a little too arroused by a dog IN our yard off the deck and puff up growl and redirect at our other dog thougth mildly. My goal was to stop the reaction, reframe the emotions she had around it, redirect her to come to me for a treat, reward bravery or investigation, reward calm, reward everything i liked. she did a lot of what cassidy is doing as a puppy. the more you can expose her to without stressing her out too much the more she'll learn now while she's young and more malleable.

we did a lot of bravery rewards, check it out (smear cheese or pb on vacuum) and have her investigate being sure object is safe and wont move and scare, mark/treat calm beaviors in the pressnce of stressors like dogs, deer, people walking by (blinks, lying down, looking at object calm, look at me, soft eyes etc).

Leslie McDevitt's book Control Unleashed and Click to Calm by Emma Parsons are two of my faves. Good luck. You can train around this.

Also be aware of puppy second fear stage which is right about now for ur dog.
OA Pup behav


Well-Known Member
Thanks so much for the thoughtful replies. I know I ask a LOT of questions on here (I feel like I do anyway!)... I'm very grateful to have people more knowledgable than myself willing to help me raise my puppy!

I had read about this second fear period, and that's why the hackles got my attention, especially since this is something new for her (or at least more frequent).

Today (prior to getting these replies) she had approached a "scary" milk jug in the parking lot and got lots of praise for that! I wasn't carrying any treats though, so maybe I'll take some one the next few walks and see how it goes. Luckily, she is VERY treat motivated! If anything, she might completely forget the "new thing" and stare at me expectantly... lol.

I haven't gotten the sense that she is really afraid, but definitely that she is being cautious, more so than usual. We've actually done a lot of bravery training IN the house (vacuum, banging pots/pans, etc) but just not outside, so she's familiar with that and will probably have good results. I just wanted a couple other opinions before I started trying to train this out of her if it was something I shouldn't be worried about. Glad I went with my instincts and asked!

Thanks again for the answers! I really appreciate it (and Cassidy too!).



Experienced Member
Approaching scary objects might also be easier if she knows the "touch" command. And if she's really cautious, while you are gradually rewarding her for moving closer, I would click, treat, and move away from the scary object rather then trying to lure her a bit closer.


Experienced Member
we also recently learned "look-at-that" which i'm pretty sure i posted but it would also work well in teaching bravery. we actually did it at the vet yesterday. there was a tiny machine on the counter that made a slight fan noise when it kicked on like a computer. every time it came on or off she would startle. it's sort of typical of her fear response to noises. so when she would hear it and tense and put her ears up i would say look at that and click. the click brings her attention back to me and lets her know that investigating or looking at something is rewarding.

we also practiced in class with the big room heater. once she gets used to a sound it's okay after that forever. i guess she logs it somewhere. any investigation like looking at or walking toward the heater and "look at that" click and i would run backward about 3 steps to get her excited to chase me and treat her. we just walked around the facility-big indoor affair with agility equipment pushed against the walls for our class. any proceeding to sniff things on her own is rewarded. this did a LOT of good in getting her to quit barking at dogs and people walking by.

canned squeeze cheese is so great b/c it doesn't spoil and you can keep it around almost anywhere. i started by squeezing some on the floor and said "check it out." Around Halloween there was a scarecrow down the block that also scared puppies. so I would squeeze cheese on the curb in front of their house and just stand and wait. she would eye the scarecrow and eat the cheese. we progressed to putting some treats in the grass nearer and nearer the sc and finally she sniffed it and YAY treats jackpot.

one other thing that works very well is hand targeting. hold out hand and say touch c/t. when you do this quickly and work toward the object they tend to be less anxious and more focused on you.

Fickla is also right about the reward being that we get to go away from the object if it's just too scary. luring them to a scary thing usually is more scary than just tossing food all around it and standing there or doing pass by's. if it's still too scary it sounds like Fickla is desecribing CAT (not meow) training or constructional aggression treatment which can also be used for fear and reactivity. The idea being if your dog is calm then the scary thing goes away or he gets to go away from it. A lot of this is used well on very reactive dogs and controlled situations where you might have a dog and person stand somewhere and approach to the point where your dog started to react but was still fairly calm and able to refocus on you. The reward is that he gets to go away or that the dog and person walk away. it's not very exciting and takes a lot of time and patience but trying all the tools at your disposal to see what works esp with this type of non aversive training sure can't hurt.